Below are some of my published work.
Discover the Great Wide World from Home
With the current state of the world — a pandemic that no one saw coming and a near worldwide lockdown — it’s easy to go a bit stir-crazy without the freedom of movement that we’re used to.
Many people have turned to using social media to connect with the outside world, while others have resorted to more drastic moves like the “coronacut” — taking scissors and clippers to their hair out of sheer boredom or for that dramatic style they always wanted to try but have now found the courage to go for.
That said, staying indoors doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy a lot of the things we were able to before. In fact, quite a few forms of entertainment (and even edification) can be enjoyed right at home for no cost.
From live concerts, art exhibitions and theater shows to exercise classes, virtual tours, and even celebrities offering up free entertainment, there’s a wide array of content to keep you occupied during these dark days. And for those who have wee ones at home, we haven’t forgotten about you. See what tickles your fancy from the selection below.
Polish your camera skills
If you’ve always been interested in trying photography, or you want to hone your skills, now is the time. There are numerous online tutorials and resources available for free, such as Curtin’s Guide to Digital Cameras on http://www.shortcourses.com, and Marc Levoy’s Lectures on Digital Photography, which can be found on YouTube as well as the official website.
Amazon.com’s Audible is giving the gift of audiobooks. They have released hundreds of books in six languages that children can listen to while they’re out of school — from modern stories like the Harry Potter series to classics and fairy tales that elementary school students through to high schoolers can delve into — as well as a selection for adults. Start listening using your laptop, phone or tablet.
Learn a language
“Children can continue to expand their horizon by learning a new language, and parents can ensure that the kids are using their time wisely,” says language learning company Rosetta Stone, which is giving children three months of free access to their language courses while they’re off school.
Art and culture
Galleries may be closed but some are allowing virtual access so you can still experience the works of artistic greats.
■ The Royal Academy of Arts in London is offering their “Picasso and Paper” exhibition free in a video tour. Their exhibition on Belgian artist Leon Spilliaert is also free. They even have a how-to lesson so you can flex your artistic muscles to create portraits using photography, painting or collage: www.royalacademy.org.uk/article/family-how-to-portraits.
■ Take a trip around Dubai in the “Dubai 360” tour that will have you zooming around museums, parks, shopping centers, rooftop views and cultural landmarks.
Tour natural wonders
With quality technology right at our fingertips, we don’t have to venture out to see some of the great landmarks of the world. With just a few clicks, you can go on a tour from the comfort of your home. Here are eight famous places that you can enjoy virtually:
■ Hang Son Doong, Vietnam
Located in Vietnam’s Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, the world’s largest natural cave is quite a recent discovery. Put on your explorer hat and go on this amazing high-definition tour of caverns and sinkhole jungles with National Geographic: https://on.natgeo.com/3eHc190
■ Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, China
Home to impressive quartz-sandstone pillars, some towering over 1,000 meters tall, and the world’s highest and longest glass bridge, you can soar above this popular tourist spot and bask in the serenity of the view thanks to AirPano VR. Find the videos on YouTube and use the arrows for a 360-degree view, or check the AirPano website for more locations.
■ Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland
Ireland is known for its fair share of magic, and the Giant’s Causeway is no exception. This UNESCO World Heritage site is found at the foot of the basalt cliffs along Antrim’s Atlantic coastline in Northern Ireland, and is made up of 40,000 huge interlocking basalt columns sticking out of the sea. These geometric columns inspired the legend that giants built them to walk to Scotland. Take a virtual tour with Britain’s National Trust.
■ Namib Desert dunes, Namibia
The Namib Desert, said to be the planet’s oldest and driest desert at 55 million to 80 million years old, spans the Namib-Naukluft National Park on the southern African coast. It has UNESCO World Heritage status and is a popular attraction for its red-orange sculptural sand dunes that seem to have rusted with time. Explore this extraordinary area from the AirPano website as well.
■ Perito Moreno glacier, Argentinian Patagonia
Perito Moreno sprawls over about 250 square kilometers, is fed by the melting waters of the South Patagonia Ice Field and towers above the turquoise waters of Los Glaciares National Park. This wondrous site has scientists scratching their heads as, instead of shrinking like others around the world, this glacier is actually growing. The almost 60-meter-tall glacier and its surroundings offer visitors a beautifully pristine view. Enjoy the view on the 360 Cities website.
■ Grand Canyon, United States
The vast Arizona landmark is home to red basement rocks believed to be about 2 billion years old. With steep cliffs and meandering trails, this UNESCO site is one of the United States’ most famous landmarks. Hike the Bright Angel Trail via Google Street View Trek, explore its peaks via Google Earth, and view the red rocks from high above with AirPano.
■ The Northern Lights
The magical aurora borealis, or northern lights, is an otherworldly sight that comes about when electrically charged particles from the sun collide with the Earth’s magnetic field. This colorful dancing light show can be viewed above both magnetic poles in such places as Canada, Russia, Greenland, Scandinavia and Antarctica. There’s a live webcam in Manitoba, Canada, where you can catch it live, if you’re lucky — check explore.org/livecams and seetheaurora.com/webcams — but if you don’t want to wait, there are plenty of breathtaking 360-degree views on YouTube or AirPano.
■ Mount Everest, Nepal
Renowned as the world’s highest peak, you can explore Mount Everest’s snowy peaks, take a “walk” around the mountain range and bask in the beauty that attracts 35,000 visitors per year using Google Street View, AirPano and Google Earth.
■ Great Barrier Reef, Australia
Take an interactive journey through the world’s largest coral reef system with naturalist legend Sir David Attenborough. Besides amazing imagery and scientific insight into this complex ecosystem, the virtual experience even offers “mantis shrimp vision.” Visit attenboroughsreef.com to dive in.
■ Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
Famously linked to Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution, the Galapagos Islands continue to be revered for their endemic wildlife. Explore the UNESCO World Heritage site with Catlin Seaview Survey’s virtual dive or go above and below the water with Google Maps.
For braver souls
Are you interested in something that’s more on the scary side? For people who are down for haunted mansions and the like, here’s a spooky virtual tour to enjoy under the cloak of the night.
■ The Catacombs of Paris
These tunnels were created in the late 18th century in Paris when cemeteries became overcrowded. They used the tunnels, known as catacombs, to house the relocated dead — more than 6 million people. You can make a virtual visit in eight languages on the Les Catacombes de Paris website.
Originally published here.
Changing Times for Tattoos in Japan?
Tattooist Acquitted for Operating without Medical License by Japanese High Court
The art of tattooing in Japan has been blanketed in restrictions and stigmatizations for decades. This goes back to its association with the yakuza’s emergence in the early 20th century, when elaborate tattoos was a sign of membership to one of the organized crime groups. From this, a stigma has been attached to an art form which once held a prominent place in Japan’s history.
However, despite the low-key (and sometimes not so low-key) discriminations, the number of Japanese people who’ve been opting to get inked has been increasing over the years. So, in 2001, in an attempt to curb their enthusiasm and regulate the industry, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare looked to Article 17 of the Medical Practitioners’ Act (1948) which states that “No person except a medical practitioner shall engage in medical practice.”
This Act, however, does not clearly state what constitutes a “medical practice,” so the ministry sought to rectify this by issuing a notice which stated, “針先に色素を付けながら、皮膚の表面に墨等の色素を入れる行為” [lit. putting pigment on a needle tip and inserting ink into the skin] constitutes a medical practice that can only be carried out by those with a medical practitioner’s license.
Still, it wasn’t until 14 years later that the authorities got involved.
In 2015, the Osaka Prefectural Police started cracking down on the tattoo industry, and two tattoo artists were arrested for violating the Medical Practitioners’ Act. Before then, the notice was primarily used by health authorities to regulate cosmetic makeup tattoo practitioners. (1)
It was during the 2015 crackdown that the studio of tattoo artist Taiki Masuda (who founded the campaign group Save Tattooing in Japan that same year) was raided by Osaka police. His tattoo equipment was confiscated and he was arrested for having tattooed three customers at the time. Masuda was subsequently fined 300,000 yen for breaching the Medical Practitioners’ Act.
However, unlike other tattoo artists who were fined, Masuda refused to pay – and instead chose to take his case to the Osaka District Court for trial because he believed to accept the fine was to accept that tattoo artists in Japan are criminals.
Masuda’s trial, which was held between April and August 2017, garnered a lot of attention because of the major implications it could’ve had on the tattooing industry. He even had support from experts in Japanese criminal law, including respected university professors who testified in his defense. Still, the outcome was not in his favor, and on September 27, he was once again found guilty of violating the Medical Practitioners’ Act and ordered to pay a fine 150,000 yen. According to the district court, tattooists need medical knowledge and expertise because “the treatment could possibly cause a skin lesion or allergy.” (2)
Once again, Masuda was opposed to giving up and chose to appeal the court’s ruling.
Then, on November 14, his determination paid off when the Osaka High Court overturned the district court’s decision and acquitted Masuda for operating without a medical license, ruling the process of tattooing is not a medical practice.
“The tattooing procedure is not relevant to medicine and it does not constitute a medical act controlled under the medical practitioners’ law,” said Presiding Judge Masaki Nishida during the ruling.
This unprecedented win for Masuda will likely be far-reaching in its implications on the Japanese tattooing industry. And although this does not mean that societal perceptions will improve overnight, it does mean that the art form will not die a slow death in a country where it was once revered. Tattoo artists now have the hope of being able to practice their craft without fear and subjugation.
With the 2020 Olympics coming up, Japanese attitudes toward tattoos are definitely going to be challenged when the country is faced with an influx of foreigners and athletes who will undoubtedly be sporting an array of ink. Will Japan still insist on turning away tattooed individuals from public baths, beaches, and water parks – or will a more pragmatic viewpoint arise?
Originally published here.
Groped on Trains from Age 12 to 18, Japanese Woman Adds Voice to Global Movement by Penning Book about Experience
In an age when phrases like “Time’s Up” and “#MeToo” resonates across social media platforms, podiums and intimate conversations, women, not only in the U.S. but around the world, have been stepping forward to lend a voice to the fact that they are tired of being taken advantage of by men.
In Italy, the phrase #QuellaVoltaChe, which translates to “That time when,” has been used by some. Women in Spanish-speaking countries across the world use #YoTambien to highlight their experiences. Arabic speakers in the Middle East and Africa echoed a direct translation of the words “Me Too.” And in France, #BalanceTonPorc, which roughly translates to “snitch out your pig,” became a rallying cry against sexual harassment.
It was while living in France that Kumi Sasaki decided to chronicle her ordeal of being continuously groped over the span of six years while riding trains in Japan. This form of harassment, which started when she was just 12 years old, is not an uncommon practice in Japan. In fact, several strategies have been put in place in order to try and restrict such abhorrent behavior.
Railway companies have created women-only cars on their trains, anti-groping posters are placed in some stations, lectures have been held at schools to inform pupils what to do to protect themselves from being groped, and anti-groping paraphernalia such as stickers and badges have been circulating. There is even an anti-groping function in the Metropolitan Police’s crime-prevention app, “Digi Police.” With the app, the words “Grope – please help me” appears when it’s opened, and when it’s tapped on, a voice saying “Please stop!” is repeatedly played.
Nonetheless, despite the efforts to curb chikan (a Japanese term for both men who grope women and the act of touching someone without their consent on crowded trains), it is still quite prevalent.
Sasaki, who currently lives in Paris, published her book, titled Tchikan , last November. In it, she recounted her arduous experience of dealing with chikan from middle school to high school on an almost daily basis on her commute from home to school and back.
Recalling her first chikan experience while on Tokyo’s JR Yamanote Line, Sasaki recounts feeling a man’s hand rub against her – a hand that she thought would have stopped touching her when the train stopped jerking, but it remained.
“The fingers of this unfamiliar hand went inside the collar of my blouse. Then he touched my back, he touched my legs, my waist, even my butt. He placed his hand directly under the cheeks, quietly raising up my skirt by just moving his fingers, and he touched my left thigh under my skirt.” she wrote.
The vile intrusion sent Sasaki into shock, as at such a young age, she had no idea what was happening.
Unfortunately, that was just the beginning, and for the next six years, she continued to be preyed upon by men ranging in age from late teens to older men in their 70s. Sasaki also recalled an incident of being followed home by one of the gropers – a married man in his 50s who apparently wanted her to have his children.
Under the strain of these continuous attacks, Sasaki’s psyche became fragile and she turned to self-harm and tried to end her life. Thankfully, however, she was eventually saved by a supportive friend.
Japan’s Chikan Epidemic
Groping on trains has been an issue in Japan for decades. In a survey by Tokyo Metropolitan Police and the JR Railway Company which was conducted in the early 2000s, it was found that two-thirds of women aged 20-40 reported to have had some experience of chikan . It was this survey that prompted some railway companies to establish ladies’ cars at certain rush hour periods and others to offer “women only” cars all day long.
The problem with chikan, however, proves quite difficult to overcome. Because even though there are such strategies, fines and even imprisonment for the offence, it still persists.
Recently, social media users began boasting of plans to grope high school girls who would be commuting to take the annual Center Test. This test is major exam in Japan and a high score is required for students to gain admission into many Japanese colleges. Unfortunately for the examinees, the Center Test can only be taken at a regional test venue on specified days, which means there is usually a lot of young train commuters on those days. And using the importance of the test and its strict policy on punctuality, these sexual predators see the exam as an opportunity to commit chikan without fear of being reported by the victims.
Sasaki’s goal for writing Tchikan was to bring awareness to how dangerous chikan really is and how it can rob girls and women of their sense of well-being and even worse. She states that many people in Japan think it’s not a big deal; and this almost nonchalant treatment of chikan had left her feeling isolated and unable to seek the necessary help that she needed.
An essential first step to a much wider issue, chikan is one woman’s way of adding voice to the ever-growing conversation about the different forms of abuse that countless women have to endure on a daily basis. And for each voice that is added, we can only hope that better faculties will be put into place to tackle these issues.
Tiny Elephant Who Raced into River to Save Drowning Human Had A Crushing Life
A recent viral video shows a baby elephant rushing into a raging river to help a man who she thought was drowning.
The touching scene was captured on camera in Chiang Mai, Thailand, where the five year old calf, Kham Lha, noticed Darrick Thomson struggling in the deep torrent.
Leaving her fellow elephants on the bank, the tiny rescuer raced into the river towards Thomson to lend a trunk to her special friend.
When you see the video, you might think, ‘awww, that’s all kinds of cute!‘ But there’s a heart-wrenching reason behind Kham Lha being on that river bank.
The river is a part of a protected jungle sanctuary where dozens of rescued elephants are able to roam around freely.
Kham Lha was rescued last year from an abusive owner and was nursed back to health by Thomson, who’d moved from Canada to work with Elephants in Thailand at the Save Elephant Foundation.
According to Thomson,“Kham Lha was in a really bad way when she came to us. She had been tied up and forced to undergo cruel training known as crushing to prepare her to work in the tourist industry.
“We freed her and helped her to recover. She became really close to me and we formed a strong bond.
“I went in the river to show just how remarkable the relationship with humans is. And that if you show warmth and kindness to them, they will treat you well, too.”
The technique called crushing is one that is horrid and cruel. Young elephants are prepared for the tourist industry by being restrained and continuously beaten until they’re submissive – which is all for the thrills of vacationers having a safe and subdued elephant to ride around and take pictures with.
Because of such abhorring cruelty, some of these animals, who of course do have feelings, are left internally broken and scarred for the rest of their lives.
Luckily, Kham Lha was one of the few who was able to make a relatively quick recovery thanks to the constant care of staffers at the rescue foundation.
“We’re all really pleased with Kham Lha’s progress and how well she’s adapted.” A spokesman for the foundation stated. “She’s now a happy young elephant.
“The video shows just how close she is to Darrick and it’s an important lesson to be kind to animals.”
According to senior wildlife and veterinary adviser at World Animal Protection, Dr. Jan Schmidt-Burbach, “Tourists may think activities like riding an elephant do no harm, but the brutal truth is that breaking these animals’ spirits to the point that they allow humans to interact with them involves cruelty at every turn.”
So, the next time you go on a holiday somewhere and think about riding an elephant or being allowed to get up close and personal with animals that should be out in the wild, think about what those animals had to endure for you to be able to smile and take pictures with them.
Image via SWNS: South West News Service
Twenty eight year-old, Raven-Symoné has displayed quite a strong sense of self during her “Where Are They Now?” interview with Oprah Winfrey recently, and may have given us something to pause and think about.
Raven, when asked about her alleged ‘coming out’ tweet (“I can finally get married! Yaygovernment! So proud of you”) last August following the Supreme Court rule that the ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional, replied “that was my way of saying I’m proud of the country. But, I will say that I’m in an amazing, happy relationship with my partner. A woman.”
Symoné went on to add “I don’t want to be labeled ‘gay’. I want to be labeled ‘a human who loves humans’.”
Going even further, Raven stated quite pointedly that she does not want to be labeled in any aspect of her life. “I’m tired of being labeled,” said the former Cosby star. “I’m an American. I’m not an African American; I’m an American.”
This statement seemed to have caught Oprah off guard as she shifted in her chair and lightly cautioned – “Oh, girl, don’t set up the Twitter on fire… Oh, my lord. What did you just say?”
Winfrey’s twitter predictions were right on the money, though there was no fire. Raven-Symone is currently trending on twitter, with many taking to the social media site to say their piece on the audacity of Symoné’s lack of interest in self-identification and labels.
However, looking at the point that one may assume Raven is trying to make – she is not denouncing these aspects of herself, “I am proud to be who I am and what I am.” It’s that she does not want to be labelled or identified as just a particular aspect of her persona.
And while some people may have an issue with Symoné’s views, does she not make an interesting point?
After being asked to expound on why she does not want to be labeled an African-American, Raven added – “I mean, I don’t know where my roots go to. I don’t know how far back they go…I don’t know what country in Africa I’m from, but I do know that my roots are in Louisiana. I’m an American. And that’s a colorless person.”
Upon Winfrey’s light warning that Symoné is “going to get a lot of flak” for not identifying herself with the sub-group, the young entrepreneur simply raised her hands and reiterated defiantly.
“I don’t label myself.” Adding, “I have darker skin. I have a nice, interesting grade of hair. I connect with Caucasian. I connect with Asian. I connect with Black. I connect with Indian. I connect with each culture.”
“You are a melting pot in one body,” Oprah concluded.
“Aren’t we all?” Symoné asked. “Isn’t that what America’s supposed to be?”
Raven makes a thought-provoking point that America is a melting pot of different cultures and identities – so why label and focus on separatism? Does that not, in itself, further separate cultures and sub-groups, and add to the growing fire of inequality? We have seen over and over what labels do, they separate us as human beings – causing distrust and division, and even fuelling hate.
America is filled with immigrants of years past, and present – and in truth, most people’s ancestors can be traced back to some other country somewhere in the world. Therefore, why should it be odd or offensive that Symoné wishes to be identified as an American rather than a particular sub-group?
With that said, Raven’s strong sense of self has no doubt played a role in her consistent success from childhood to adulthood. And even the talk show queen was impressed, as she took to twitter after her sit down with Symoné and wrote, “She’s so self-aware and comfortable in her own skin. Love that!”
It seems the identity of one of history’s most notorious serial killers has been solved – at least according to British businessman and author, Russell Edwards, of Naming Jack The Ripper. From what started as a hobby, Edwards found himself set on a path to uncover the mystery surrounding the gruesome murders of Jack the Ripper.
This mystery, of course, has produced countless theories – in addition to books, movies and other works of fiction. The suspects had also been quite diverse, and included: a Jewish shoemaker; Prince Albert Victor; the Duke of Clarence; Walter Sickert, the post-impressionist painter; and William Gladstone, the former Liberal Prime Minister.
During the autumn of 1888, Jack the Ripper, terrorised the impoverished streets of Whitechapel in East London with his horrific serial killing of at least five women. And until now, there has been no proof in identifying the murderer behind the butchery.
DNA evidence currently reveals that one of the key suspects, who was actually kept under police surveillance until his entry into an insane asylum, was the killer. This evidence came from a shawl – said to be found by a police (Acting Sergeant Amos Simpson) at the scene of Catherine Eddowes’ murder. The shawl was later taken to Amos’ home and passed down in his family for generations. The shawl eventually reached descendant David Melville-Hayes, who, in 1991, gave it to Scotland Yard’s Crime Museum. They, however, kept it in storage due to doubts of its provenance until 2001 when David reclaimed the shawl and had it exhibited at the annual Jack the Ripper Conference.
The Shawl ultimately ended up with Edwards, who purchased it at an auction and later enlisted the help of Dr Jari Louhelainen, a Finnish senior lecturer in Molecular Biology at Liverpool John Moores University. He is also a world-renowned expert in analysing genetic evidence from historical crime scenes.
With the aid of recent cutting-edge techniques, Dr Louhelainen uncovered that the shawl contained DNA from both the victim and the murderer. He was also able to extract the 126-year-old DNA from the shawl and compare it to descendants of, not only the victim, but also the suspect – and both verified a perfect match.
According to Dr Louhelainen – the scientific techniques for examining DNA samples had only recently progressed to a level capable of solving the mystery – stating that “only now, in the last ten years, would this have been possible.”
The killer is revealed to be Jewish Polish immigrant, Aaron Kosminski, a hairdresser who lived in Whitechapel at the time of the murders. He would have been 23 at the time, and had arrived with his family in 1881 England – fleeing persecution from Russian authorities. He later died in Leavesden Asylum from gangrene at the age of 53.